The announcement by Francis Maude that 5 of the civil service unions had reached an agreement to changes to the CSCS, was reported to have elicited an angry response from some of the unions. Maude congratulated the 5 unions on their efforts to achieve an “affordable scheme”.
“I greatly appreciate the efforts of the five other unions (the PCS failed to agree) whose constructive proposals have allowed us to reach these new terms.”
No deal had been agreed said the GMB, UNITE and POA. Brian Strutton of the GMB was quoted as saying that the union will tell its members that the deal is the best that can be gained through negotiation, but the members will decide whether to accept it or not.
UNITE official Kevin Coyne said:
“UNITE has not backed the deal, neither have the other four unions. We are simply recommending the package as the best achievable by negotiation. It is up to our members now to decide if they wish to accept or reject this deal.”
POA General Secretary Steve Gillan said Mr Maude’s comments were “outrageous”. The National Executive would decide when it met next Tuesday.
PCS obviously thought that the five would recommend the deal to their members. Mark Serwotka expressed his disappointment that “the other unions appear willing to accept what is by any measure a severe cut in the redundancy rights that effectively tears up the contracts that their members have signed.”
One of the five, Prospect, in a press release refers to the five unions (Prospect, FDA, UNITE, GMB, POA) “recommending the deal” (See “Five unions agree redundancy terms for civil service”). Not only that but Prospect also says “that the terms of the agreement will be included in the Superannuation Bill now before Parliament in time for the 3rd reading in the Commons on October 13th”. So the government is obviously using the agreement, or tentative agreement to push through the changes before the unions even have the chance to consult their members. The unions will not receive the verdict of their members until the end of October. If Prospect knew that Maude was pushing it through Parliament on October 13th then the failure of the unions to condemn such a move can only be read as agreement with the terms.
The key question, of course, is will the five make a recommendation to their members. Perhaps their sensitivity at Maude’s statement is associated with the decision of the TUC at its Congress in regard to opposition to cuts.
Composite 10 at the TUC included a commitment to:
“8. support and coordinate campaigning and joint union industrial action, nationally and locally, in opposition to attacks on jobs, pensions, pay, or public services
9. oppose the unacceptable inequalities in our society, taking every possible step to fight for social justice, including defence of the jobs, pensions and pay of public sector workers”
Of course, any experienced trade unionist takes a TUC resolution with a pinch of salt. Rhetoric is not often followed by action. But if the five unions, including two of the largest ones, UNITE and GMB, recommend that their members agree to the changes (or fail to make a recommendation, which would indicate that they hoped that they did), it would make a nonsense of the supposed united front of resistance against the cuts. They would have failed at the first hurdle.
Previously the five had left the PCS out on a limb because they did not want a dispute with the New labour government in the run up to the General Election. The PCS won their High Court case against changes to the CSCS, which forced the new government to negotiate.
In my opinion if any of these unions support this agreement it will be tantamount to collaboration with the coalition government, and it will hand a propaganda weapon to the government; a stick to beat the PCS with. They will say, these five are being ‘reasonable’, but the PCS is run by these ‘mad leftists’.
What about the content of the ‘agreement’. The curious thing is that the five unions appear to have agreed (even if subject to the agreement of their members) to the government’s original 12 month ceiling for compulsory redundancy. The government has moved the proposed 15 month ceiling for voluntary redundancy to 21 months. UNITE had previously stated that the changes (with the 15 month ceiling would mean some members losing two thirds of their compensation).
I don’t know whether the logic of the union negotiators (other than the PCS, of course) is that this may be a means of avoiding compulsory redundancies, but it means that should there be any compulsory redundancies then this will mean a massive decrease in the compensation than staff would get, should they be forced to go.
The purpose of the changes, of course, is not just to save money but to facilitate a massive swathe of redundancies which will result from the austerity drive: at least 600,000 redundancies according to the government’s own estimate.
Prospect and FDA are beyond the pale, but it would not bode very well for the TUC’s anti-cuts campaign if UNITE and GMB did not stand in the same camp as PCS in defending the interests of their members. Time is short so any members of UNITE and GMB should press their unions to recommend rejection of the changes.
Another question which merits consideration is what position will the new Labour leadership adopt to the proposed changes on October 13th? What will the unions demand of them?
PCS’s statement on the proposed changes can be found here. Nothing is as yet available on the UNITE or GMB websites.